1958 – 2009
There is no need for an introduction to Michael Jackson. Everybody knows who he was. Everybody knows what he did. Everybody knows what he was famous for. He was the king of pop. The gloved one. Wacko Jackco. He was a legend, a madman, an idol, a prodigy, a genius, a train wreck and a controversy. He was a man of many faces and many complexities. He was bigger then a legend, but not quite a God. He was many things to many people. But now we live in a world without Michael Jackson. The show is over. The spectacle finished.
Just what shocks us about Michael Jackson’s death? Could it be that he never seemed to be real at all? He was like a figure of legend. A fictional character. A man so wrapped in intrigue and wonder it was like if he was from a twisted musical storybook without an ending. However Michael Jackson’s story has ended, but his legend is sure to live on.
For weeks to come tributes and debates about Michael Jackson’s strange and complex life will sure to be a continuous topic in the press. So what exactly is there for me to say tonight about Michael Jackson? Well, tonight I can do nothing more then sit here as a pop culture historian, as a critic, as a journalist and, yes, as a fan, and share my thoughts and feeling about this legendary entertainer. Of course these are just one man’s opinions. I am not saying I am right. I am not saying that someone else is wrong. I have no inside information, or am claiming to have anything original to say. This is just my bare bone thoughts.
When most men are mentally and emotionally ill we call them insane and we either get them the help needed to overcome their mental illness or we institutionalize them. However, when a man with money, fame and power is mentally and emotionally ill, we call him eccentric and we allow his sickness to worsen as we revel in the spectacle of his insanity. Thus was the downfall of Michael Jackson. There was no doubt, even to the casual onlooker, that Michael Jackson was not sound in mind. The man had massive emotional problems and was severely mentally troubled. Yet, as his instability worsened, there was little to no indication that Michael Jackson was receiving any sort of assistance or help. Of course, we will never know the truth of what went on behind closed doors, but with Michael Jackson writing the checks for his assistants and entourage, and by estranging himself from his family, no one was able to take charge and help Michael get the help that he needed to be a healthy person. As a result, Michael Jackson’s life became a true tragedy.
What was the origins of his emotional instability? There is little doubt that a large part of it was from the childhood that he was denied by becoming the front man for his family’s singing group, The Jackson Five. By the age of ten Michael Jackson had gained the spotlight in front of his older brothers – Tito, Jackie, Jermaine and Marlon - and became the family’s bread and butter. It seemed that Michael Jackson could do it all. A pint sized dynamo, the kid could sing, dance and had more soul then artists twice his age. Yet, by being a shy and overly sensitive child, Jackson was unable to handle the fame, nor the pressure, that was thrust upon him. It is no secret that there was both mental and emotional abuse present in the Jackson household. Under the tyrannical fist of father Joe Jackson, who looked at his sons’ successes to compensate for his own failure as a musician, Michael Jackson was most likely scarred by the extreme pressure that was put upon his young shoulders. As a result, once he gained the financial freedom to fulfill his each and every wish, he attempted to make his ultimate fantasy world come true. Michael Jackson’s only dream seemed to be age nine again, before this whole nasty carpet ride called fame began. Jackson wanted to live in an endless summer in a far away land where adults didn’t exist and children were free to do whatever they wanted to do. Jackson wanted to live in Neverland, and thus he virtually built himself that imaginary world. Locked away at his ranch from the prying eyes of the public, Jackson suppressed himself to a childhood state of arrested development, developing the emotional and mental state of the nine year old boy that he was never allowed to be.
And of course that was where the trouble began.
I do not believe now, nor have I ever believed, that Michael Jackson was a sexual predator. However, I do believe that Michael Jackson’s actions with children were inappropriate and that he should have never been allowed to have been in care of children nor allowed to be unsupervised with children. What I believe is that Michael Jackson did not have the mental capacity to understand just why his actions were inappropriate, and why sleepovers and parties were questionable. Just as a child would not question allowing his friend to spend the night, neither did Michael Jackson. These children were nothing more then little friends to a man who could not relate to adults nor reality. However, any responsible adult present during these sleepovers, outings and events should have had the good judgement to have stepped in and stopped Jackson before he became prey to money hungry opportunists that were looking for a questionable situation to exploit. Many times people have asked just where were the parents of the children who went to Neverland Ranch? I mean, one meeting with Michael Jackson and you just knew the guy wasn’t right. Who leaves their child in the care of a madman, no matter how famous they are? The answer to this, in my opinion, is that the parents knew that the child was most likely safe, but also knew that they could bend the situation in their favor. But one has to also ask where were Michael Jackson’s support staff and PR people? Why did they not step in and stop it? Most likely Michael had the money and power to make sure nobody interfered in his play dates, but instead he suffered questions and allegations of child molestation, which would become the darkest part of his legacy, and a stain that would take away from his amazing musical career. Yet, in a sense, taking Michael away from the children would be like denying a child of his peer group. Michael should have been supervised at all times when around children. You don’t let a fox in a hen house no matter how well trained he is. In the same sense, nobody should have ever allowed Michael Jackson to be left alone with minors whether he was a child molester or not. The truth was, his mental instability alone should have been an indication that Jackson did not have the ability to be left in charge with children.
Thus, the same thing should be said about his own children. Father of three children, Prince Michael Jackson I, Prince Michael “Blanket” Jackson II and Paris Jackson, his children have been denied any sort of normal life Surrounded by their father’s madness, all three children, not yet teenagers, have been forced to live in a world of seclusion with no sense of the outside world. They are the real victims in Michael Jackson’s madness. So repressed into his fantasy world, Jackson has done greater harm to them by giving them no sense of reality, then fame did to him by forcing him to live in a harsh and adult world. As callous as it may sound, perhaps now, away from their father’s insanity, and perhaps with years of therapy, these children will be able to find a much needed reality that their father could have never given them.
But the real tragedy is that Michael Jackson was not a happy man. I mean, how could he have been? Money and fame and talent can buy nobody lost happiness. Due to his esteem issues he went under sever medical lengths to change the shape, and even the color, of his face multiple times during his life. The hounding of the press, the questions of the public, the jeering of his critics and the accusations of opportunists forced him, time and time again, to attempt to save his public persona and his dignity, sending him into a state of paranoia and turning him into a virtual recluse. Yet, not even the best PR agents could save a ticking time bomb like Michael Jackson. There was no doubt about it. Something just wasn’t right in Neverland.
However, perhaps in death Michael Jackson will finally be able to find the peace that he sought in life. If his soul was hurting, his suffering has stopped. If his sanity was lost, the searching is now over. Michael Jackson is gone, but he has died a legend.
But what of his legacy? Will Michael Jackson just be remembered for the scandals, the inane behavior and the sensationalized tabloid accusations? No, his legacy lies in the music. It comes down to this. Play Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough from his album Off the Wall. Now I dare you not to want to dance. Its impossible. The complexity of the beat, the rhythm and the phrasing of the vocals will capture your soul and swift you away on a wave of ecstasy unlike any dance song ever written before. That is where the legacy of Michael Jackson will remain. It remains in the way the music makes you feel, be it I Want You Back; Maybe Tomorrow, Billie Jean, Thriller, Ben or any of his dozens of hit records from his amazing, record breaking, forty year career. While we will never forget the man, perhaps in time, his musical legacy will outlive his tragic life.